Weakness of Europe’s Soft-power is Shameful — Denial of the Call for a Ceasefire

By P.I. Gomes*

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago | 19 November 2023 (IDN) — The Israeli brutal bombardment continues into a second month by an unprecedented violation of international humanitarian law.

Some 12,000 persons have been killed, that include more than 4000 babies, infants and children. This slaughter of innocent women and children with the horrific siege of the Gaza and killings in the Occupied West Bank regards the European Commission’s meagre millions of Euros as humanitarian aid, almost an empty token of its long proclaimed “soft power”.

The widely acclaimed practice that exercises influence and engages in dialogue to resolve global problems rather than use of military force or economic and social sanctions and penalties had historically given high moral standing to Europe’s foreign policy. A policy respectful of the Geneva Conventions on crimes against humanity and demands for the respect of human rights by an occupying force against unarmed civilians is well-known and previously defended by the EU.

“Right to self-defense”

Most regrettably, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen in her visit to Israel on 13 October gave unconditional support to Israel’s “right to self-defense”. This unbalanced and culpably ignorant pretence was no more than the trite repeated clamor of US President Joe Biden and some Western leaders.

The disproportionate use of Israel’s military might, annually endowed by US $3.8 billion for military and missile defense systems continues unabated as civilians seeking shelter, their homes, schools, mosques and churches are demolished.

Commission President von der Leyen so muzzled of a voice against such inhumanity had remained silent while the Israel bombardment and siege of Gaza continues. Unable or unwilling to do no more than repeat the US government’s refusal to demand a humanitarian “pause” or ceasefire, her position appeared blind to the massacre of Palestinians and siege conditions of cutting off water, food, fuel and electricity by Israel against the population of Gaza.

But remarkably courageous and forthright, the silence of the Commission President was challenged by a public statement, signed by more than 800 former and current staff of the EU. They regarded her view as a misrepresentation of Europe’s position and called for a ceasefire and two-state solution to end the “on-going massacre”, while projecting a roadmap for a lasting peace between Palestinians and Jews.  

In a similar vein, EU Council President, Charles Michel, expressed grave concern on the deteriorating humanitarian situation, demanding access to food, water, medical care and fuel for Gaza.

Similarly, after hosting a humanitarian aid conference in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron made a plea first for a pause, leading to a ceasefire, considering it totally unacceptable that civilians are bombed and stated in an interview with the BBC, “We urge Israel to stop”.   

Europe’s quagmire – condemning or condoning Israel’s Genocide

The atrocities by the Israeli Defense Forces reached a grossly inhumane level by the raid on Gaza’s main al-Shifa hospital on Wednesday 15 November 2023. This was greeted by world-wide condemnation, including France’s President Macron repeated call to end bombing of civilian infrastructure around the hospital. While Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez demanded an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and called on Israel to put an end to the “indiscriminate killing of Palestinians” (www.euronews.com).

To these European voices, the anger of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority was far stronger. As President Abbas stated Israel is waging “a war against the existence of the Palestinians” in the Gaza strip. As he continued, it is a “barbaric war” and “genocide” that is taking place “before the eyes of the world.”

In one corner of the world, among the 79 member countries of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), there is growing concern over the horrific massacre by Israeli forces in Gaza.

For countries in the OACPS, one need not be surprised that the failure of the EU Commission and organs to unequivocally condemn the protracted violation of Palestinian human rights is deeply disturbing and contradicts fundamental principles of respect for rule of law and defense of human rights. One OACPS country has already severed diplomatic relations with Israel in face of the bombing of civilian homes, deaths of more than 12 000 civilians of 5000 children and babies and forced displacement of 1000s of Palestinians.

These callous violations by Israel and the feeble voices of Europe come at a most unfortunate time when a new cooperation agreement between the OACPS and the EU is scheduled to be signed. To be known as the Samoa Agreement, due to the country of its signing, it will be the “overarching legal framework” for EU-OACPS relations for twenty years, continuing four decades of partnership relations between the two entities.

The Agreement enshrines principles on human rights, peace and security, with specific provision to facilitate peaceful settlement of disputes and condemning crimes against humanity.

So ironical that the agreement promoting peace was signed on the same day that the world witnessed the armed forces of Israel enter and thoroughly search Gaza’s principal hospital and, in their actions, disrupting medical care for wounded civilians, children and new-born babies.

Questions will continue as some commentators said, “Europe faces a credibility crisis -at a time when it can least afford double-standards and a betrayal of norms and values it wants enshrined in the new Samoa Agreement” (cf Mark Langan & Sophia Price, November 10, 2023, in blogs.lse.ac.uk).

One may also note with serious concern that of the 79 member states of the OACPS, the Samoa Partnership Agreement was signed by 44 countries with the expectation and provision that a required two-thirds (57) will subsequently sign to all the agreement to enter into force.

Irrespective of the promising possibilities to deepen and ensure a mature partnership of the OACPS and EU for a rightful place of joint action in a changing global order, the EU must take serious and consistent action to reset its acclaimed “soft-power”.

*P.I. Gomes is a former Ambassador of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana to the European Union and a former Secretary-General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean & Pacific States (OACPS). [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: EU’s initial unconditional support for Israel has evolved to calling for humanitarian pauses in conflict. (14.11.2023) Photo credit: Anadolu Ajansi (AA)

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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